Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Few Positive Thoughts About Facebook

Anyone who has read this blog regularly knows that I have complained several times in its pages about Facebook. To sum up those complaints, Facebook has made a habit of making changes that its users do not want and then refusing to do away with those changes no matter how loudly its users protest. That having been said, the past few days I have been reminded of some of the positive things about Facebook, things which in the end do outweigh the often distasteful changes the site makes.

Indeed, perhaps the chief advantage of Facebook is that it does allow individuals to stay in touch. This became readily apparent to my co-workers and myself as our office was made redundant. While many of us (my Number Two Best Friend and those who live in the same time as myself) would have no problem staying in touch, there are others who lived elsewhere in which keeping contact would be a problem. Facebook was then offered as a solution. Those of us with Facebook accounts added each other as friends if we had not already done so and many of those who did not have Facebooks then got them.  Ultimately Facebook will allow a very closely knit group of former co-workers to stay in touch.

Of course, another advantage, and one which Facebook for some bizarre reason seems to discourage, is meeting new people. Some of my closest friends of recent years I have met through Facebook. Given that they live in such distant places as England, Australia, and New Zealand, it is safe to say that I would not have met them if not for Facebook. These friendships have enriched my life greatly and I value them as much as those I have with people I have met in person. Beyond personal relationships Facebook has also proven to be a very good networking people. Through Facebook I have met people who could potentially be of help in my writing career. Many of my friends are also writers, while others are publishers, and editors.

Beyond creating personal relationships and being a good networking tool, Facebook has given me an opportunity to interact with famous people I would never have dreamed of being able to do so. I have discussed classic films with comic book legend Fred Hembeck and joked around with actress and writer Jewel Shepard. I have become close enough to some comic book professionals that I consider them friends.

Over all, these advantages outweigh the irritation of Facebook making changes that its users do not want. In fact, it is because of these advantages that I often grow so angry with Facebook making changes that reduce the site's usefulness and the user's enjoyment. Facebook is a great tool for staying in touch with old friends and making new ones. Unfortunately, the changes the site often makes detract from the site's usefulness. And I fear that if Facebook continues making changes, its usefulness will ultimately come to and end. Regardless, as Facebook is right now it does have is advantages. At least I know I can stay in touch with my former co-workers. r

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The End of the Job

Tonight saw the last episode of The Office to star Steve Carell. He is leaving the show to pursue other projects.  His departure was written into the show, as Michael Scott and his long time love Holly had decided to move to Colorado. Oddly enough, my life reflects that of Michael Scott to a degree. No, I am not engaged, nor am I voluntarily leaving my job. That having been said, my job ends tomorrow at 6:00 PM. The office at which I have worked the past six and a half years is closing, a victim of advances in technology and the still none too healthy economy.

I must say that I do have mixed feelings about the loss of my job. On the one hand, I have always wanted to make a living writing, and I will certainly have the opportunity to try doing so without having to go to another job eight hours a day.  We are being given a severance, so I will not be hurting too much economically. On the other hand, I am entering a period of my life in which much is going to be uncertain. A regular pay cheque does offer a certain amount of security, and my benefits included such things as health, dental, and vision insurance. There is a lot I have taken for granted the past many years which I soon will not have.

Sadly, it seems to me that the loss of jobs has rarely been addressed in movies, despite the fact that it has been common in various periods of American and British history. It was not unusual during the Great Depression for films to depict the realities of being out of work. This was even true of fantasy films. In King Kong (1933) Anne Darrow (Fay Wray) was an actress desperately in need of work when she hired on to the expedition of filmmaker Carl Denham (Bruce Cabot). In My Man Godfrey, the homeless Godfrey (William Powell) had worked until the stock market crashed. Unfortunately, once we get past the Great Depression, most films ignore the economic realities of the time.

Indeed, I can only think of a few films after the Great Depression which deal with the subject of losing a job during hard economic times. The films Raising Arizona (1987), Wisdom (1986), and They Live (1988) all touched upon the harsh economic realities of the Eighties, but none of them specifically dealt with the end of jobs. In fact, the only film which comes to my mind that addresses the loss of jobs is the 1996 British film Brassed Off. The film depicts the struggles of a brass band in the village of Grimley (a thinly veiled, fiction version of the actual village of Grimethorpe) following the closure of the mine that employed most of the men there. The various villagers react to their unemployment in various ways, some of them downright tragic.

Given that losing one's job due to the closure of an office or plant is not unusual and certainly has not been unknown the past several years, one would think that more films would touch upon it. I can only guess that perhaps it is a subject that is much too depressing for most film makers to address. Regardless, it is something that many of us will go through, including myself beginning the day after tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Poly Styrene Passes On

Poly Styrene, founder and leader of legendary punk band X-Ray Spex, passed yesterday, 25 April 2011, at the age of 53. The cause was breast cancer.

Poly Styrene was born Marianne Elliott-Said 3 July 1957 in Bromley, Kent.  She recorded her first single, a reggae song titled "Silly Billy," as Mari Elliot, which was released in 1976. It was after she watched The Sex Pistols perform in 1975 that she decided to form X-Ray Spex. She placed an advertisement in the newspaper and thus recruited Jak Airport (Jack Stafford) on guitar, Paul Dean on bass, Paul "B. P." Harding on drums, and Lora Logic (Susan Whitby) on saxophone. While X-Ray Spex would become one of the most respected punk band of the era, the road would not always be smooth for Poly Styrene. While playing in Doncaster she experienced hallucinations. She would return to X-Ray Spex, and the group recorded five singles and one album, Germ Free Adolescents.The band broke up in 1979.

Poly Styrene released a solo album, Translucence, in 1980. In 1986 she released the EP Gods and Goddesses. In 1991 X-Ray Specs reformed to perform at Brixton Academy. The band would reform once more in 1996 and release a second album, Conscious Consumer. X-Ray Spex disbanded, never to reform again. Poly Styerene would release two more albums, Flower Aeroplane (2004) and Generation Indigo (2010).

Neither X-Ray Spex nor Poly Styrene were very prolific in their careers, yet Poly Styrene would leave a mark nonetheless. Poly was a rebel even by punk standards. She was hardly a rock 'n' roll sex symbol, wearing heavy braces and dressing in Day-Glo colours. Indeed, she once swore that if she ever became considered a sex symbol, she would shave her head (and, in fact, she once did). Both with and without X-Ray Specs, her songs were for the most part positive, evincing none of the nihilism typical of the punk movement. What is more, her lyrics were often thought provoking and often political. A postmodern feminist who made her own way, Poly Styrene was unique.